Midlife Career Change When Change is not Possible


A midlife career change is often a manifestation of the well-known “mid-life crisis”.
A mid career change often happens at the same time.
It is important to recognise the difference between them.

The mid-life crisis happens during the period 37-56 or so.
During the Autumn of our lives.
It tells us that the life we thought to have during our twenties is not going according to plan.

This is also when we realise that the sowing we did during Summer (19-37-ish) is not enough to get us through the Winter, 56+. A sobering experience.

As this realisation sets in, other things are happening in our lives:

  • separation and divorce,
  • children leaving home,
  • elderly parents needing care.

It can be a rough time.

A mid career change may occur at the same time but not always. We will return to this in a moment.

And that’s why “career planning” has so little going for it. It starts you off on a path you no longer control but gives you the false sense of security that you do.

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of “Eat, Pray, Love” and “Big Magic”, makes the excellent point that we use jobs and careers interchangeably. But they are not. Here’s what she had to say…

  • Hobbies bring us joy, they show us that we have spare time
  • Jobs pay the bills and everyone needs one
  • A career is a series of jobs that bring us satisfaction but you do not need one
  • A vocation is something altogether different, it is your calling

You can see the full post here

Careers and lives are symbiotic. Careers need to be addressed with passion, they need to be pursued with enthusiasm and commitment. They are hard work, all-consuming and if you don’t love your career (that mid career change, again), it is probably best that you go and get a job. Any job.

But what if you can’t leave the job or career you have now?

Our careers are the way we interact with and participate in the economic world. We produce to consume – a hobby would have us merely consuming (economically) because we do not produce anything that people are willing to pay for.

So a midlife career change, if it is truly a career change, needs to stay in the realm of economic production. This may appear to be pedantic but it is important.

Many people I speak to about this say, “but of course you can change, you just need the courage to do so”. And, yes, from the outside that may be true.

But for you it may not be so easy. And there is no need for you to beat yourself up over it. You may have financial commitments, you may like the routine (even if you grumble about it), you may be pretty much content. It doesn’t matter that much why you will not or cannot change your career. The key now is to find a way to make the career you have satisfying.

Midlife Career Change and Craftsmanship

In other articles I have written about the importance of craftsmanship, doing a job well for its own sake.

This is the key to finding dignity in your current job. Removing your personal expectations (what will this job do for my career / reputation / advancement?) and putting the focus squarely on the job itself.

To give an example.

To get myself out from behind a desk and screen I have now, twice, taken on commercial cleaning jobs. What I discovered is that if you remove the stigma from cleaning – and forget about the paltry pay – I could take as long as needed to do the job well.

The ethos I discovered was that my job was to make the office I was cleaning a pleasant place to come to work. Somewhere the staff would enjoy arriving each morning. Taking that idea into the cleaning meant making sure the corners of the rooms were vacuumed, that the marks on the desks were removed, that dust went where dust should go.

What I realised through this is that, given the time, cleaning can be a job with dignity. What stops this is the rush to finish so one can move onto the next job because the pay is so low.

I want to come back to Elizabeth Gilbert.

In her post she makes these distinctions and we come back to them because they can help you determine whether or not a mid career change is the right thing for you.

Let’s start with hobbies. A hobby is something that you do for pleasure, relaxation, distraction, or mild curiosity. You do it to keep life interesting. Having a hobby means you have spare time. Time to get lost in.

Crucially, hobbies can come and go in life — you might try out a hobby for a while, and then move on to something new. The stakes are SUPER low with hobbies. You don’t need it to succeed for the simple reason that its sole purpose is to be something you enjoy doing. Hobbies are a reminder that you’re human.

A job on the other hand is absolutely necessary. You may not need a hobby, but you do absolutely need a job. There is great dignity and honour to be found in having a job. A job is how you look after yourself in the world.

Now, here’s the most essential thing to understand about a job: IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE AWESOME. You don’t need to love your job; you just need to have a job and do it with respect. A job is an exchange of money for time and effort. We live in a material world and money is a currency to survive it. You do a thing someone needs doing, and they pay you to do it.

Of course, if you absolutely hate your job, by all means look for another one, but try to be philosophical about why you have this job right now. (Some good philosophical reasons for staying in a crappy job right now include: You are taking care of yourself; you are supporting your beloved family; saving up for something important; paying off debts. The list of reasons to have a job — even a bad job — goes on and on, and honour abides within all those reasons.)

A career is different from a job. And a career is not for everyone.

A job is just a task that you do for money, but a career is something that you build over the years with energy, passion, and commitment. A career is a job you are passionate about. You don’t need to love your job, but you do need to love your career. It is your relationship with the world.

If you don’t love your career it would be better for you to quit that career and just go find yourself a job, or a different career. This is where the midlife career change and mid career change become one.

A career is a good thing to have if you really want one, but YOU DO NOT NEED TO HAVE A CAREER. There is absolutely nothing wrong with going through your entire life having jobs, and enjoying your hobbies, and pursuing your vocation, but never having “a career”.

“You should love a career, or not have one.”

The word “vocation” comes to us from the Latin verb “vocare” — meaning “to call”. Your vocation is your calling. Your vocation is a summons that comes directly from the universe, and is communicated through the yearnings of your soul. It is sacred, mystical, spiritual. It’s something you can’t not do.

While your career is about a relationship between you and the world; your vocation is about the relationship between you and your God. Vocation is a private vow.

Someone can take your job or a career away – but no one can take away a calling. No amount of money could stop you from pursuing a calling, nor seduce you to start a new one. It’s on a higher plane than hobby, job or career.

Your career is dependent upon other people, but your vocation belongs only to you.

Fortunate are those who can make their callings both a career and a job.

As you read through this, stop to consider whether your dissatisfaction is with your job or your career.

If it is with your job and it is possible to change jobs, do that. We all need a job.

If, however, it is with your career, this requires more circumspection particularly if a midlife career change is not possible.

And if you are unable to change your career, or job, we need to find a way for you to find dignity and honour in the job or career you have now.

It is not an insurmountable task but it requires a re-think.

Midlife career change? Mid career change?

Can’t move?


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